Club 7s Men’s Pool C, D previews

BOULDER, Colo. – Pools have been announced for the 2014 USA Rugby Club 7s National Championship at Seattle’s Starfire Sports Complex. This week, all four pools on both the men’s and women’s competition will be previewed. Today, we take a closer look at Pools C and D on the men’s side.

Pool C: Chicago Lions, East Palo Alto Razorbacks, Atlanta Old White, Hawai’i Titans

Two teams that got to know each other very well this summer were the Chicago Lions and 1823, with the Lions winning three of the four Finals matchups they must be feeling pretty confident heading into Nationals.

Chicago’s summer success can be attributed directly to an injection of collegiate talent. Most notably is speedster Sondai Adjei from Davenport University. Adjei was effective for the Lions last summer, but the coaching staff has seen an immense improvement in his game. Alongside Adjei are Midwest natives and Arizona State Sun Devils Alex and Adam Sandstrom. The Sandstrom brothers are long, rangy players who are good in the air, but also possess pace.

The Lions will need these college standouts to perform well in order for Chicago to win its first sevens National Championship since 2007.

After finishing second behind San Francisco Golden Gate at the conclusion of three Northern California qualifiers, the Razorbacks of East Palo Alto find themselves in the final field of 16 after Golden Gate was forced to drop out. SFGG will be competing at the Limerick stop of the World Club 7s event, and have suffered too many injuries to field an additional side for USA Rugby’s Club 7s Nationals.

Still, the Razorbacks played plenty of quality rugby to warrant a spot in Seattle. The Razorbacks were tied in total points with Golden Gate going into the last Nor Cal Qualifier, where San Francisco beat Palo Alto in the Final.

Led by Mili Pulu, who plays his 15s for Golden Gate, the Razorbacks are as athletic and skilled as ever, but the coaching staff believes the team is far more disciplined this summer. A disciplined East Palo Alto squad could mean trouble for the rest of the field.

Old White of Atlanta finds itself heading to Seattle as the No. 2 team out of the South Region. The team has played a lot of sevens this summer, but admit the local tournaments it entered did not present competition similar to what it will face at Nationals. Even so, Old White had its battles against New Orleans, played 1823 at Cape Fear 7s, and faced an improve Charlotte side.

Adding to the success of the unit has been three players from Life University – two from the undergrad program and one from the senior team. Tyler Hoffman from the University of Alabama has also been a pleasant surprise. The forward is not flashy, but is a workhorse and has been solid all summer.

This weekend will mark Atlanta’s fifth appearance at Nationals in six years. Old White will have to try to improve on its 2013 Quarterfinals showing without captain Jamie Gasparella who is not available this weekend.

The Hawaiian representatives at Club 7s National Championships have been fairly successful over the years. Unfortunately for the Titans, that was not the case for them last August. Their 14th-place finish was not the result they were looking for, but plenty of lessons were taken from the 2013 Championship that should improve their performance in ’14. Maybe even a greater benefactor for the Titans will be the far more convenient travel to Seattle this go around.

Pool D: Denver Barbarians, New York Athletic Club, Santa Monica Dolphins and Austin Blacks

Last year’s second-place finish was the sixth time Denver made the Club 7s Finals. Regrettably for the Barbarians, they’ve yet to bring a sevens National Championship back to Colorado.

Regardless, Denver looks to have as good a chance as anyone to win the whole thing in 2014. Sevens captain Maximo de Archaval and 15s captain Logan Collins are knowledgeable and skilled returners for the Barbos. While those two have been incredibly reliable over the years, there have been a couple of newcomers that had added much needed speed for Denver. Most notably of the fleet-footed rookies is Ke’von Williams. The former football player and competitive decathlon athlete had a breakout tournament at Elite City Sevens in Houston where he turned enough heads to earn a workout at the Olympic Training Center.

In a top-heavy West competition, Denver placed first over Kansas City and Glendale while compiling a 19-1 record.

Similar to Old Blue, New York Athletic Club benefitted this summer from an improvement of teams in its region like the New England Prime and the New Haven Bulldogs. Still, NYAC enjoys its rivalry with Old Blue and, to no one’s surprise, they butted heads multiple times this summer.

Although NYAC has added a couple of college-grade players for the summer, the team is driven by its traditional Winged-Foot players starting with Justin Hundley. Hundley, NYAC’s captain, is the heart and soul of the team but not the only standout. Forwards Alastair McFarland and Nate Brakeley are part of a very physical front row, but the two are equally athletic and skilled as they are strong in contact.

NYAC has also received a large boost with the return of Troy Hall. The Eagle has returned to the East Coast – for the time being – after time spent with Seattle-OPSB, and has been making line breaks at will this summer.

After missing out on Club 7s National Championships for over 25 years, Santa Monica’s goal at the beginning of the summer was to finish in the top two in the Southern California Conference, which would guarantee them a place in Seattle. The Dolphins are now forced to modify their goals after finishing second behind Belmont Shore in So Cal.

Santa Monica is not the biggest team in the field, but does a good job of keeping the ball alive, avoiding contact, and finding the edge. And while the Dolphins are almost entirely made up of players from the club’s 15s team, they have been assisted by a couple of attackers who have joined the team for the summer – Zach Bonte and Olli Marchon.

Bonte plays for UCLA and was elected to play for the USA Rugby AIG Men’s Junior All-American team that finished third this spring at the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy in Hong Kong. Marchon brings loads of experience with playing duty for England on the IRB HSBC Sevens World Series circuit under his belt.

After a less-than-stellar 15s season, the Austin Blacks have rebounded nicely this summer by winning the Red River Conference in sevens. In three regional qualifiers, the Blacks claimed two first place finishes and a second place finish in their third and final tournament in Houston.

Levi Kereti and Rich Darrow have been steady all summer for the Blacks, while Matt Radzavich has terrific feet and is extremely dangerous in space. Even with the talented roster, the 2014 Club 7s National Championship marks Austin’s first appearance at the end of the summer sevens tournament. Their rookie status at Nationals makes them a team not deemed as dangerous as others in the field, but having others underestimate the All Blacks is fine by them.

“We are probably a bit of a darkhorse and nobody knows much about us,” admits player/coach Tane Jericevich. “But we are happy about that. We’re fine going under the radar.”

The 2014 USA Rugby Emirates Airline Club 7s National Championships will be hosted at Starfire Sports Complex Aug. 9-10. All matches will be streamed live on USA Rugby TV. Tickets are available at $10 for a one-day pass or $15 for a two-day pass. Family four-packs are also available for $50 and include four two-day passes. Purchase tickets to #Club7s and find out more information regarding ancillary events at the Tukwila, Wash., complex on the Club 7s event page.